BT announces the end of ISDN

BT Group CEO Gavin Patterson has set a date of 2025 to switch off the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) and Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) networks.

It might seem a long way off – but with millions of subscribers to migrate and little further investment in the existing ISDN likely to take place, switching to more sophisticated SIP technology should be a priority for businesses. Session Initiated Protocol (SIP) is a ‘standard’ data communications protocol designed to support the features required to set-up, handle and clear-down Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephone calls on Local and Wide Area TCP/IP data networks.

While it sounds like a job for the telecoms department, an industry survey* in 2016, revealed that 52% of IT managers also have responsibility for telecoms. The same survey revealed that 67% of IT managers don’t know what SIP is, despite its status as the next big shift in telecoms.

SIP trunking is a very cost-effective, powerful, scalable and highly flexible solution that helps businesses to streamline their communication costs and resources. Its key features are the removal of physical phone lines – replacing them with ‘virtual line channels’ in an Internet connection, and reducing the restrictions around call capacity and location. The fact that it uses ‘virtual’ phone lines rather than physical wire pairs, means SIP is highly scalable and we’ve seen monthly call and service charges typically 40% to 80% cheaper than traditional ISDN lines. It also makes it easier to increase, and decrease the number of ‘lines’ for your business needs, with very short lead times (< 24 Hrs) – with very low connection fees!

But it’s not just the cost savings that make SIP such an attractive proposition – it also offers a level of flexibility that traditional ISDN simply can’t compete with. As workforces continue to gravitate towards flexible working, the demand for remote office and mobile solutions are only going to increase in the coming years. SIP enables employees who are working remotely to have internal and external calls made to their desk-phone automatically delivered to their smartphone or PC, without incurring any forwarding charges. The same is true if a line is busy, or if an office is hit with an unforeseen event – e.g. a local network failure, severe weather or fire damage. SIP trunking minimises these problems, allowing a business to adopt a very flexible Disaster Recovery strategy, and keep working through most eventualities.

And let’s not underestimate the importance of that. The industry survey* also found that for 63% of respondents, it would take less than two hours of being unable to make or receive calls before a business suffered reputation or financial damage.

Of course, not everyone is a fan of change – and ISDN has undoubtedly been a robust and reliable technology. However, bear in mind that during this phase-out of ISDN, BT’s investment in the technology will also diminish – making it less reliable over time.

So – with the switch to SIP inevitable, what should organisations consider before making the move? As with most things in life, it’s all about selecting the right partner. Businesses should do their research and try to find a provider that has its network, data centre and connectivity all under one roof. It’s only when something goes wrong and customers realise they have account management with one company, connectivity with another and a data centre on the other side of the country that things become a real headache. Before committing to a contract, they should make sure they know where every aspect of the solution is being housed – and try to pick one that has an end-to-end service.

There are six steps to switching to SIP:

  • Ensuring you have capacity [bandwidth] in your Internet connection
  • Setting up the phones and call routes
  • Putting a Disaster Recovery plan/strategy in place
  • Planning system migration & porting existing numbers
  • Testing the set-up and call routing
  • and securing the system from external attack.

Of course, we at Foxhall Solutions can assist with this process and introduce our Internet and Carrier partners to provide a reliable and easily supported telephone system solution. Contact Us now to talk about how we can reduce your costs and increase your capabilities to work with your customers, suppliers and staff.

*Sourced from Neil Armstrong, director of business services, Timico

A 3CX phone system in the palm of your hand! … the 3CX Mini-PC

Recent release of Mini-PC’s has given Foxhall Solutions another interesting and extremely cost-effective way to provide the extensive and fully-featured award-winning 3CX IP-PBX platform, to small businesses.

3CX version 15 now supports deployment to a Mini-PC so that we can create a 3CX PBX Appliance on Microsoft Windows 10 (or now, Linux Operating Systems too). Using a Mini-PC you have a low-cost, yet reliable appliance that can be used in smaller offices where no server is available, or where server resources are already max’d out. These PC’s have no fans or ventilation requirements, and therefore can run 24×7 with no maintenance.

With the price of the IP-PBX central equipment minimised, you can also take advantage of low-cost SIP Trunk services to replace ISDN and analogue lines, reducing on-going service rentals and call costs by huge amounts! (we have seen reductions of 60% to 80% in monthly telecom’s spend).  If you run a Small Business then this has to be the best way to get the best phone system at the best price. Besides its low cost – and 3CX’s low running costs, using a Mini-PC as a 3CX server, offers you several advantages:

  • It will fit anywhere you can give it mains-power and a network connection.
  • It can be connected by WiFi – if cabling issues make that the only alternative!
  • Power consumption is extremely low (approx. 10 Watts).
  • Without fans, this 3CX Server is silent!
  • It’s cool! – Yes it looks great, but I actually mean – this ‘green’ machine won’t heat your office!
  • The Mini-PC won’t suit every need, but its worth a look if you are wanting up to 15 extensions, handling 4 to 8 simultaneous calls.
  • It will allow you to migrate your 3CX system to a more powerful Server platform as your business grows.
  • It’s a 3CX – so it will do all the on- and off-site phone system things that have made 3CX a world-leader in PBX systems.

[Warning – tech’ stuff ahead!] The MINIX PC shown here, runs 64-bit Windows 10, has an Intel Atom quad-core X5-Z8300  processor, 4GB of DDR3L RAM, and 32GB eMMC storage. It can run an HDMI monitor or HDTV with Intel HD Graphics drivers, and has USB2.0 & 3.0 ports for mouse, keyboard and memory expansion. In addition, we can connect it to your network via Gigabit Ethernet, or WiFi and can fully remote-support the server and Yealink phones through its Internet connection … and, the MINIX makes a great Media-server for your HD TV!

 

When you want to talk about modern, functional & flexible business telecommunications without the old-fashioned prices and contractual ties … Contact Us at Foxhall Solutions.

What to ask before Buying a new Phone System

Selecting the Right Phone System for you …

You have probably heard about VoIP, but might not understand how it applies to a new phone system for your business? Don’t worry, you are not alone! Although it’s a well proven technology (in use since 2004), and the cost benefits of its use are accepted, it is something that you may be nervous about, simply because to you, VoIP is an ‘unknown’.

As with everything in your business, there are a few questions that need answering before you go setting budgets and short-listing systems. Here are seven questions that will help you select the right phone system for your business:

  1. What type of phone system best fits your business?

While there are a lot of VoIP system manufacturers out there to choose from, they may be broadly split into two ‘types’;

You may suit a ‘hosted’ VoIP system, where the phones are at your offices, but the central equipment that makes the connections to the fixed & mobile phone networks, is off somewhere on the Internet, and uses Internet to connect the extensions to the central equipment.

Or – you might be better suited to an on-site system, where some sort of ‘server’ is acting as the controller for your phones, and connecting your calls to a ‘carrier’ who has responsibility for onward connection of your calls to fixed and mobile networks. In this case, the Internet is used to connect your ‘trunk lines’ (SIP Trunk channels).

Have a look at this article to find out more about the two types of VoIP systems …

There are pro’s and con’s for both systems, but in general, we have found that on-site systems have a lower cost of ownership, and provide a lot more flexibility in regard to integration of different carrier services and line types. It is notable that for both types of VoIP, you do need to ensure that the phones are plugged into a computer network that is designed to support voice traffic and give it priority. That means, if it’s done properly, hosted VoIP is not necessarily the cheaper option!

  1. Why are you looking for a new phone system?

Besides the basic fact that you need to make and take phone calls, what are the most important things that you are looking to get from your phone system?

Apart from how they are marketed and how their features are licensed & applied after the initial system sale, most VoIP systems are much the same. For example, it’s useful to know that if you want that voice-mail system to be on other than the receptionist’s extension, you’re not going to have to purchase more hardware and/or software to do so …

This is why it’s important to have some ideas about how you want your incoming calls to be handled by the new system. VoIP phone systems are a lot more flexible than what you might be replacing, so don’t be afraid to ask about things like; voice-mail for all extensions, using e-mail to get voice-mail to people, integrating mobile phones into the system, automatic switching between in and out-of-hours, using Microsoft Outlook contacts as your phone book … etc.

Use your imagination and ask about your ‘nice-to-haves’ – as you may be pleasantly surprised!

  1. Will your phone system integrate with other business systems?

One of those nice benefits you hear about is the ability for a VoIP phone system to integrate with other business systems like your CRM or ERP platform – so you can dial out from a customer record, or screen-pop a record when a call comes in. Some systems offer API’s for integration with certain software, however other phone systems don’t offer this capability.

You should ask your vendor which business systems can integrate off-the-shelf, and which require integration with your new VoIP system when you are being presented with a solution.

  1. Will you be deploying, maintaining and supporting the phone system yourself?

If you have capable IT staff, chances are you will be able to carry out a lot of the deployment and maintenance of the system yourself. You may also want to look at some form of first-line system support training as part of the project package. If you do not have IT staff you might want to consider a Support Agreement with a service level agreement that reflects how critical your phones are to your business.

  1. Who will be providing your voice service?

VoIP systems can be extremely flexible in using the services of different ‘carriers’ to provide you with the lowest call tariffs to different local, national and International fixed and mobile services.

It’s important that you also investigate and short-list VoIP carriers along with your short-list of systems. If you are going to be using VoIP ensure your VoIP provider is compatible with your phone system, and – yes, I’ve seen it happen before – please avoid purchasing your VoIP carrier services before you decide on your phone system. Although ‘SIP’ standards allow connection to almost any carrier, there may be very good reasons to go with one ‘Telephony Internet Service Provider’ for Internet connection and VoIP services, rather than another.

In most cases, VoIP systems use Internet connections to carry phone calls. However, in some instances, you may be restricted to using ‘traditional’ ISDN or analogue lines. This does not mean that you can’t use a VoIP system, but we do have to take this into account as ‘gateways’ will be needed to connect these line types.

  1. What is the total cost of ownership?

You love the fact that VoIP can save you money, but will it? You need to look at the total cost of owning a VoIP phone system.

Buying purely on price will get you into trouble! More reliable, expandable systems do tend to cost more per-user up-front. However, the savings you will see in the long run (from lower monthly service costs, least-cost-routing and better call tariffs), make it worthwhile. As your business evolves you will want to add users to your system, so find out how easily the system can be expanded, (or contracted), changed and upgraded as new features and technologies are released.

  1. What do your users want?

Even if it is last in the list this is very important for you to consider. Each user or employee type has different needs that you need to meet.

Prior to purchasing a system you should ask each of them what they would like to be able to do with their phone – both while they are in the office, and when they are out. This will allow you to align needs with benefits for a particular system. It might be that you need something different for a Reception phone, and/or DECT cordless extensions …

An artist will always paint best when they select their own palette & brushes!

Does that make sense?

If you follow this advice and walk through each of these steps you are going to find other questions you will need answered. But that’s the point – you need to go through the proper steps to make sure that you are selecting the right VoIP phone system.

With our background in mission critical telecommunications for Civil Aviation and the City of London, Foxhall Solutions will use our voice and data expertise to provide you with a new phone system – properly integrated with your existing network – with a load of features and benefits to help your business keep in touch with your staff, suppliers and customers.

Use our Contact Us page, or call us at 01787 228 402 and we’ll show you how we put the Comm’s in Commerce!

Case study – 3CX IP-PBX for Jameson Chartered Accountants

Jamesons&phone

Clacton-based Jameson Chartered Accountants could be described as a ‘large small’ firm, with a team almost thirty strong serving a growing customer base including a number of larger clients.

Their phone system had been in place since 1992, and – perhaps surprisingly – their telecom costs had, if anything, been falling relative to other expenses. In part this is because they receive many more calls than they make themselves: the ratio is probably about 7 to 3. For quick response they now find it more effective to use text messaging and email.

The requirement

Jameson’s had been discussing upgrades to their phone system for some years, but the trigger point came in August 2013, when they took over another practice in Colchester. Shortly afterwards, in April 2014, they took over a second practice based in Manningtree.

Clearly it would be expensive to keep a competent secretarial team at each of the three offices, and there was an additional problem, too. Under the new arrangements some staff were moving between offices, so there was a risk that clients might have to make several phone calls before reaching the person dealing with their affairs. It made obvious sense to have a system where all the calls could be answered at the Clacton head office, and then redirected to the right person wherever they were working at the time – even if they were working from home.

So the firm took the decision not to renew their existing service contract (in place since 1992!) and to look for a replacement system from a reputable supplier.

Timing for the new system was important. The work could not be done until the network cabling in the Clacton office had been reconfigured, which meant waiting until February 2015 – and it certainly could not be started before the majority of the firm’s work on annual tax returns had been completed.

Choosing the system

Jameson’s invited three firms to tender. Two were offering cloud-based systems, but Bill Wilson, who was in charge of the deal, was attracted by Foxhall’s server and software-based system. ‘At 62 I’m an IT enthusiast, and phasing down my professional work, but I’m interested in maintaining our IT system. And Graham made a good impression – his system was the least expensive, and I liked the fact that it could be managed from a server in our office. That meant it was under our control and we could do our own minor modifications. The outlay for Foxhall’s system was mostly on phones and an internet upgrade – we’d have needed to do that for any system, so even if we had eventually chosen something different we’d have benefited from the installation anyway.’

A challenging installation

Even when the decision had been made there were some serious challenges to overcome, especially when it came to finding downtime when the upgrades could be done. The Clacton office is also the firm’s main data centre, with many of the staff working on remote desktop machines but still using the in-house servers. With more and more of the firm’s work being internet-based the tolerance for downtime was almost zero – despite careful scheduling to avoid the firm’s busiest period. Even weekends were difficult because colleagues were still working out of hours. ‘But when necessary Graham always worked late into the night to get things done.’ (Graham notes that he wasn’t the only one…!)

Late night working certainly proved necessary when the Foxhall team tried to replace Jameson’s BT Openreach hubs with Draytek routers – only to find that the existing configuration worked only with BT’s own equipment. However, after a (very) long and frustrating weekend Foxhall were able to get everything working as intended.

Similar problems were revealed when it came to installing the new equipment at Manningtree – but once again these were overcome to everyone’s satisfaction, creating a VPN (Virtual Private Network) that precisely met Jameson’s requirements.

Foxhall’s formal quotation was delivered on 13 March. The Clacton office was up and running on 19 April, the Colchester office five days later, and the Manningtree office five days after that – delays made inevitable by the firm’s intensive use of its servers during the working week.

So what was their experience of the installation? In Bill Wilson’s words: ‘Foxhall Solutions delivered the system we were expecting in a thoroughly professional, friendly and enjoyable way –it was very pleasurable working with them.’

Got a pain in the neck – Go Cordless!

cradling-phone-badIs that phone handset literally giving you a pain in the neck? – As you hold it on your shoulder and type on your keyboard …

If you Google that scenario, you’ll find a lot of references to health & Safety in the workplace, and flat-out suggestions that it just should not be done!

So – What’s the alternative …?

Plantronics_BT40A corded headset is a good start. However, it’s amazing how much more natural and enthusiastic you can be in a phone call if you are able to stand up, walk around, and be expressive – just as though you were talking to that person right there with you. To that end, I’m using a new headset with my Yealink T46G phone. This phone has a rather nice feature in that it can be equipped with Yealink’s BT40 Bluetooth module. This in turn can then be used to connect Bluetooth cordless headsets, like you’d use with your mobile phone. There are a set of tested and compatible headsets for this feature of course, and I recently chose the Plantronics Voyager Legend UC headset for my office.

The headset can either be charged through a USB connection off your PC, or from a small charging stand off a mains power adapter. It will give an impressive seven hours talk time off a complete charge which takes just 90 min’s. Set-up on the T46G phone is quick and simple. Just insert the BT40 into the back of the phone, and then use the menu to enable it, then find and connect it to your headset. Being Bluetooth, the headset is a ‘local’ device, with a range of about 10 metres – so this is not a walk-round-the-building solution! (we can get longer ranges with DECT cordless headsets if you need that feature though …).

EXP40-636This is the ideal phone and headset combination – for any situation where people need to operate a keyboard at the same time as making or taking calls, where they may need to get up and walk to a filing cabinet while talking to a caller, or when they might just want to wave their arms around as they go through that important sales proposal. The talk-time of this headset also means that it would be perfect for a Receptionist who answers and passes on calls for a business – even where call volumes are high. In that situation, we can also equip the T46G phone with EXP40 add-on modules to provide one-touch call transfer off to every extension in your business.

Contact Foxhall Solutions to talk about innovative ways to keep in touch with your staff, customers and suppliers – while avoiding that pain in the neck!

 

Three warning signs for your business telecom’s

Do you consider telecommunications as a cost centre or a profit centre for your business?

If it’s not helping you be productive, then it’s probably your phone system that is causing the problems. Your staff may be finding it easier to call their colleagues and customers, on their mobiles rather than use the phone on their desk. If that’s the case, then modern IP-PBX phone systems can help you “put the Comm’s in Commerce” …

Here’s three signs that indicate you need to take a close look at your business phone system:

High Cost of Ownership
catblog1Do the incoming bills from your supplier for; maintenance, repairs, adding extra lines, and local & international call tariffs – make up a large portion of your monthly business costs?  It’s hard to focus on improving communication for local and remote offices when you’re hit with big phone bills!  IP-PBX systems are a perfect solution to reduce that monthly or quarterly cost. Make the change and enjoy little to no repairs and low cost calls & phone lines; In addition, you can connect your remote users and offices through Internet – making ‘internal’ calls free of charge.

Growing Pains
A growing organisation has one major concern in terms of telecom’s; scalability. If restrictions in your phone system are limiting the ways you can connect to your staff, customers and suppliers – due to platform restrictions, or costs – then it’s time to look for a more flexible solution. One of the best advantages of an IP-PBX system is the opportunity for extremely cost-efficient and quick scalability, so your phone system can grow and change along with your business.

Poor Connections with Colleagues
Business pressures are making it important to enable staff in your company to talk with each other and share ideas and innovation – even if they don’t work at the same office or for the same Department. If your current phone system and its costs, make it difficult for your staff to connect with each other, then that’s a barrier toward making improvements in your business. An IP-PBX will allow easy and low cost connection between staff, as well as groups – through either a phone call, or a video conferencing connection. The introduction of app’s to show ‘presence’, and to change the way calls get to you, also make it easy to keep in touch when you are on the road.

If it’s your phone system that dictates the way that you handle calls to and from your staff, customers and suppliers, then you need to look at a modern IP-PBX – like 3CX. 3CX will allow your business to connect in ways that benefit your organisation, and in ways determined by you – not by some phone system manufacturer …

Contact us at Foxhall Solutions to talk about the ways that 3CX can help your business ….